In 2010, the marketing team for DirecTV was hitting on all cylinders. Back in those heady days, before Millennials ruined television with their tiny home, young-eyes-can-see-a-cell-phone-screen-streaming, cable cutting ways the war for our cable dollar between DirecTV, Dish Network, and your local cable monopoly was at an all time high, and TV ads where where the most compelling battles were waged. One campaign, which was particularly ridiculous was the “Opulence, I haz it” ad in which a Russian sounding man strolled the gilded hallways of his mansion, surrounded by beautiful Russian looking models, soliloquizing on the joys of thrifty opulence and kissing a tiny giraffe. Here, watch it for yourself.
I hate to admit it, but for the last seven years, anytime I hear Jesus talk about “abundant life,” my first thought is the “Opulence, I haz it” guy. He, and the people from whom he stands in as a caricature, are, I’m afraid to say, the prevailing cultural image of “abundant life” for 21st century Americans. Is this what Jesus had in mind when he told the Pharisees that he came to bring life abundant?
Of course not.
So, what does abundant life look like? I think we find our answer in the idealistic narrative of the early Jerusalem Church in Sunday’s lesson from Acts. After the mass conversion of 3,000 on Pentecost Day, those who were left behind in Jerusalem got about the business of being the Church. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. The first thing to note is that abundant living in Christ is only done in community. There is no I in church, and the only way we can truly live out our Christian vocation is through the pattern of regular gathering with other disciples.
It is in those gathering where we can teach one another, enjoy one another’s company, share meals (real and symbolic), and pray for the needs of the world. Like owning a tiny toy giraffe, abundant life can be messy at times. Human beings being what we are, relationships aren’t always perfect. In three chapters’ time, the perfect community described by Luke in Acts 2 will be torn apart by the fear of scarcity and lies of Ananias and Sapphira. Rifts happen, and we have to work at forgiveness and reconciliation, but there again, those things can only happen when we are committed to being together: to living in community.
As the Church began to expand beyond Jerusalem, the importance of Christians meeting together with regularity grew exponentially. The young Church needed to develop leaders, needed to work out what discipleship looked like, needed to understand what difference Jesus really made in their lives, and the only way to accomplish those things was to be together, to pray together, to learn together, to break bread together, and to celebrate God’ grace together.
What is abundant life? Do I haz opulence? I have faith, and I have community, so I must be pretty darn close.